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Washington Post: Frosh picks his most high-profile fight yet

06.14.2017

He’s taken on the powerful gun lobby, the deep-pocketed drug companies and the well-heeled bail-bond industry.

And now Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) is picking a fight with the president of the United States.

Frosh, along with D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D), sued President Trump on Monday, alleging that the president is violating anti-corruption clauses in the Constitution by not severing ties with his businesses.

It is the latest example of how, with a Republican in the governor’s mansion, Frosh has jumped into the lead role of defending Democratic priorities in the blue state.

“Somebody’s got to do something,” the lanky, soft-spoken former lawmaker said in an interview after the lawsuit was filed, making clear to a reporter that he was paraphrasing Jerry Garcia, the late Grateful Dead guitarist and singer. “It’s just so pathetic that it has to be us.”

Frosh has joined more than a half-dozen cases against the Trump administration, thanks to a new law pushed through by Democrats in the General Assembly that allowed him to do so without permission from the legislature or Gov. Larry Hogan (R). The first time he used his new powers was when he joined Washington state’s lawsuit over Trump’s proposed travel ban.

In explaining the latest lawsuit, Frosh said: “We don’t know whether [the president] is shifting his policies, his pronouncements, based on how much money he’s making. President Trump has ignored the emoluments clause. . . . He’s profiting from his office as president.”

U.S. Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), who served nine years with Frosh in the Maryland Senate and considers him a mentor, said no one is better suited to challenge Trump.

“He’s passionate about getting the facts right and about developing public policy that advances the common good,” said Raskin, who has been known to refer to Frosh as “our Atticus Finch,” the fictional lawyer in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

“He has an undivided loyalty to the public,” Raskin said of Frosh, who served 28 years in the legislature before being elected attorney general in 2014. “And he’s not a soulless technocrat — he’s a child of the 1960s and embodies the best ideals of that generation.”

After the 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., Frosh, then chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, led an effort to ban assault weapons in Maryland.

He also helped to shepherd the state’s repeal of the death penalty and the passage of same-sex marriage through the General Assembly.

As attorney general, Frosh proposed a bill — the first of its kind in the country — that gives him the power to take legal action against drug companies that dramatically increase the price of off-patent or generic drugs. He also pushed the state’s highest court to weigh in on an overhaul of bail rules and fought back efforts by the bail-bond industry to have the legislature overturn the new court rules, which take effect next month and greatly limit the use of bail.

Although his office is in Baltimore, he was a fixture in Annapolis during the recent legislative session, often walking with former colleagues across Lawyer’s Mall from the State House to hearings in the House and Senate as he pushed for the price-gouging bill and worked to stop the pro-bail legislation.

Lobbyists and bail bondsmen accused Frosh of trying to circumvent the legislative process during that battle and underestimating the impact the court’s changes would have on crime in cities such as Baltimore.

Republican senators also took aim at the Democratic-majority legislature’s vote to empower Frosh to sue the federal government without a green light from the governor. They stormed out of a floor session, calling the resolution a partisan ploy.

But supporters, even those who often disagree with his liberal positions, say Frosh is one of the most principled elected officials they know.

“He’s extremely thoughtful, very ethical and very moral and extremely hard-working,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), who has on occasion clashed with Frosh over progressive stances on issues such as gun control.

Frosh could be back in the news again soon because of a different controversial topic. His office was asked a year ago to opine on the legality of letting men, but not women, go topless on Maryland’s beaches, and has promised to issue an opinion soon.

Frosh, who is married with two daughters, has lived in liberal Montgomery County all his life, except for college and law school. He spent four years as a legislative assistant to then-U.S. Sen. Harrison A. Williams Jr. (D-N.J.), who went to prison in 1981 on bribery and conspiracy charges in the Abscam scandal. In 1976, Frosh opened a private law practice, which he ran until 2014. He often biked from his home in Chevy Chase to his law office in Bethesda.

Frosh calls the passage of the 2013 assault-weapons ban one of his proudest moments in public service.

He defended the law this year as attorney general, convincing a federal appeals court to uphold the constitutionality of the ban on semiautomatic guns with certain military-style features.

During a recent fundraiser, it was clear that Frosh is not the only one who remembers the role he played in the bill’s passage. About a dozen gun rights protesters rallied outside, heckling Frosh supporters entering the event.

Raskin told Frosh that he can be certain of two things for the rest of his career: “Wherever you go, you will always be greeted by NRA protesters. And you will have the majority of the people on your side.”

Ann E. Marimow and Karen Tumulty contributed to this report.